The age-friendly com­mu­nity

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

I’d like to be­lieve I was a gift to my late par­ents. I was born on the last day of Christ­mas, also known as Old Christ­mas Day.

I re­cently cel­e­brated my fifty-fourth birth­day. Or was it my fifty-fifth? I ’m in a quandary, be­cause I re­ally don’t know. Please al­low me to ex­plain.

One af­ter­noon, dur­ing the wrath of Hur­ri­cane Igor, I sat by my sump pump, en­sur­ing it was work­ing prop­erly as it emp­tied the wa­ter that was trick­ling into my base­ment. To pass the time, I worked my way through boxes and boxes of stuff my fam­ily and me had col­lected over the years, keep­ing some, toss­ing out the rest.

One item in par­tic­u­lar caught my im­me­di­ate and un­di­vided at­ten­tion: the name tag that was wrapped around my wrist right af­ter I was born. I was dumb­struck by what I read: Baby Boy Janes was born on Jan. 6, 1956. That would make me 55 to­day. How­ever, as I said ear­lier, I’m only 54.

I shouted to my wife, “Sherry, I might be older than I thought I was.”

When she won­dered about what in the world I meant, I elab­o­rated, “I might be 53, or I might be 54. I don’t know any longer.” Talk about an iden­tity cri­sis! Mean­while, I have an ex­pla­na­tion for what I think hap­pened. Be­cause I was born so close to the old year, the nurse sim­ply for­got to jot down 1957, writ­ing 1956 in­stead.

All this think­ing about my birth­day has caused me to won­der about other age-re­lated mat­ters. In 2006, the Govern­ment of New­found­land and Labrador, through its Depart­ment of Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, stated that se­niors, adults 65 years-of-age or more, com­prised ap­prox­i­mately 13.4 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Over a third of the pop­u­la­tion was over 50 years-of-age.

Our pop­u­la­tion is ag­ing fast. In­deed, since 1970, it has aged faster than any other prov­ince. If Statis­tics Canada can be trusted, this prov­ince will have the largest per­cent­age of se­niors by 2026, the year I will turn 69 ... or 70.

In govern­ment lingo, the data is in­tended to “ help us iden­tify is­sues and trends to in­form the devel­op­ment of poli­cies and pro­grams, as we strive to proac­tively ad­dress the re­al­i­ties of our ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.”

Here’s one of the many ques­tions I’ve asked my­self re­cently: Is my com­mu­nity age-friendly? How about my prov­ince? My coun­try? In­quir­ing minds want to know.

It’s per­son­ally en­cour­ag­ing to see the govern­ment spon­sor­ing an Age-Friendly New- found­land and Labrador Grants pro­gram. It’s “de­signed to pro­vide fund­ing to in­cor­po­rated mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, Inuit com­mu­nity gov­ern­ments and re­serves, and se­niors’ or­ga­ni­za­tions … to sup­port them in plan­ning for an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.” What’s an age-friendly com­mu­nity? The govern­ment pro­vides a def­i­ni­tion: “An age-friendly com­mu­nity is one where the phys­i­cal and so­cial en­vi­ron­ments are de­signed to en­able older in­di­vid­u­als to live in a se­cure set­ting, en­joy health and con­tinue to par­tic­i­pate fully in so­ci­ety.”

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion sug­gests that, in age-friendly com­mu­ni­ties, out­door spa­ces and pub­lic build­ings are pleas­ant, clean, se­cure and phys­i­cally ac­ces­si­ble. Pub­lic trans­porta­tion is ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able. Hous­ing is af­ford­able, ap­pro­pri­ately lo­cated, well-built, well-de­signed and se­cure.

There are op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­tic­i­pa­tion in leisure, so­cial, cul­tural and spir­i­tual ac­tiv­i­ties with peo­ple of all ages and cul­tures. Older peo­ple are treated with re­spect and are in­cluded in civic life. There are op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ment and vol­un­teerism that cater to older peo­ple’s in­ter­ests and abil­i­ties. Age-friendly com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­for­ma­tion are avail­able. Fi­nally, com­mu­nity sup­port and health are tai­lored to se­niors’ needs.

A de­mand­ing agenda per­haps. How­ever, gov­ern­ments on the na­tional, pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal level should be chal­lenged to pay greater at­ten­tion to an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Once gov­ern­ments are on­board, they must, first of all, as­cer­tain what it is they are look­ing for. Then they must ask cer­tain ques­tions. For ex­am­ple, what spe­cific chal­lenges are as­so­ci­ated with age-friend­li­ness? What has al­ready been ac­com­plished in this re­gard? Which goals will be tack­led first? How will these goals be achieved?

A start­ing point could be some­thing as sim­ple as lob­by­ing the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity to pass a mo­tion to the ef­fect of ac­tively par­tic­i­pat­ing in, sup­port­ing, pro­mot­ing and work­ing “to im­ple­ment an age-friendly ini­tia­tive to as­sess and im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­ity and in­clu­sion for older per­sons and for the whole com­mu­nity.”

Ad­mit­tedly, I have a self­ish mo­tive in mind by mak­ing this sug­ges­tion. I want to know that, when I reach 65, older per­sons will no longer be un­der-rep­re­sented in our work­force and in our com­mu­nity life, and older per­sons will be able to fully par­tic­i­pate in and con­trib­ute to the so­cial and eco­nomic well-be­ing of our com­mu­nity. In­deed, such an age-friendly ini­tia­tive is em­i­nently com­pat­i­ble with and sup­ports other com­mu­nity ef­forts.

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